Upton & Shimkus Press NRC Chairman for Answers On Yucca Mountain Safety Report

July 8, 2011

 WASHINGTON, DC - Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) are pressing Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko for more answers and documents as part of their investigation into the Obama administration's efforts to terminate the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository. The letter comes on the heels of a recent subcommittee hearing where NRC scientists expressed frustrations over Chairman Jaczko's efforts to terminate their work on the third volume of the Safety Evaluation Report (SER), the most important technical evaluation of whether the DOE application meets regulatory requirements. 

The NRC Inspector General recently released a report that revealed damning evidence that Chairman Jaczko abused his legal authority by deliberately withholding key decision-making information from his fellow Commissioners and intentionally blocking issues for resolution that were long overdue. 

In the letter to Chairman Jaczko, Upton and Shimkus write, "The attached email (see Attachment A) between NRC personnel indicates that you or staff in the NRC Chairman's office were involved in the alteration of the original language in the professional staff's draft of the Technical Evaluation Report (TER).  We understand that the TER was prepared at your direction to replace the staff-prepared Safety Evaluation Report regarding post-closure safety of the repository (SER Volume 3).  Both the SER Volume 3 and the TER contain extremely important information regarding the safety and viability of the Yucca Mountain project.  

"Documents produced during the course of our investigation suggest that NRC professional staff   was on track to complete the SER Volume 3 well before the scheduled November 2010 publication date.  In July 2010, however, you ordered the NRC professional staff to slow down or delay its important work on SER Volume 3.  Your purposeful delay then allowed you, in October 2010, to order the NRC staff to stop its work and close down its review prior to completing the SER Volume 3. We seek to determine whether you, the NRC chairman's office staff, or NRC staff made all of the Commissioners aware of the completion of the reversible SER Volume 3 in a fulsome and timely manner.  We also seek to determine whether NRC staff representations, made as part of the licensing proceeding, fully explained that the SER had been or was about to be completed, and was ready for formatting and the office director's signature."

Upton and Shimkus also wrote that they have reason to believe that not all documents from Jaczko and office staff have been produced.  Documents collected from other NRC Commissioners included emails from Jaczko's staff that were not provided in Jaczko's own production of documents.  Upton and Shimkus have also requested full unredacted copies of documents previously produced to the Committee that were redacted without explanation.  

Read a copy of the letter and attached e-mail HERE.

BACKGROUND 

The development of the Yucca repository has been a costly and lengthy process.  The Government Accountability Office estimates that more than $15 billion has been spent on the Yucca Mountain repository since 1983, $10 billion of which has been directly collected from the public's electric bills. The Yucca project was nearing the finish line with DOE's submission of a construction license application in June of 2008, which NRC docketed for review in September 2008 and was scheduled to decide within three years (September 2011) or seek a one-year extension.

During a June hearing, witnesses revealed that Energy Secretary Steven Chu simply ignored the technical components of the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository when withdrawing the project's license application. A recent Government Accountability Office report also found "social and political opposition to a permanent repository, not technical issues, is the key obstacle."  GAO also found termination will add to taxpayer burdens, by increasing the substantial liability costs   for DOE's failure to take custody of spent nuclear fuel. These costs presently amount to $15.4 billion if Yucca were to open as planned in 2020 and will increase by an estimated $500 million for each year delay after that.